One of the benefits of publishing on my own site is the freedom to choose my own topics to review – so why not write about whiskey?
Making whiskey is not a simple process and there are about 5 or 6 stages, depending on the explainer, which contain numerous steps and sub-steps. Let’s look at a few attempts to explain graphically how whiskey is made.
From a few sources online I was able to locate graphics that might help a novice learner understand the steps or stages of whiskey making. So, what are the differences in their efficacy and how useful to a novice would they be? (And how would I know? I’ll do my best to apply some instructional design principles to the comments below.)
The Arrows-to-Somewhere Graphic:
This first graphic looks pretty straightforward at the beginning but then you look a little closer…
Pros: Numbering the stages is a good idea because it organizes the whole process at the highest level. This provides an initial schema, which allows a learner to then hang the details on. Since there are detailed steps associated with each stage, rows are used to group them. Good touch.
Also, there is an attempt to use color to differentiate the stages but with some inconsistencies which we’ll talk about in the Cons. Color can be very helpful to keep the details/steps mentally organized. (It’s not just intended to make the graphic pretty.)
Cons: Although the arrows mostly direct your attention through the steps in each stage, their color and direction do not always make sense. In the Mashing stage, where does the “Sweet barley water” arrow lead to? You’ll notice the same thing in the Fermenting stage too.
Stages 3 and 4 start using backward arrows with the same color as the Preparation stage – green. It’s unclear whether the connection to the Prep stage was intentional or not. You’ll also find that the Stage 4 arrow color is being used in the Stage 5 row. It seems the designer stopped paying attention to the use of colors about half way through creating this graphic.
Stage 4 (Distilling) is a somewhat complex stage and the designer packed some of the steps into dotted boxes to separate them. At this point the straight-forward, step-by-step organization of this process starts falling apart. There is a step that’s called “returned via receiver” which points backward but doesn’t seem to go anywhere after that…
Finally, there is no clear distinction among the captions being used to guide the reader. The styles include: text-only, empty rectangles with text, and black boxes with text.
With so many inconsistencies in this graphic, it’s likely a novice to the whiskey process (or even a connoisseur) would run from the their computer screaming!
The Compounded Graphic:
Here we find a mixture of a 9-stage process and straight up chemistry knowledge.
Pros: Aesthetically, it’s pleasing! And this helps us (especially novices) get over that initial hurdle of consuming new information. It was probably intended to be a marketing “infographic” for the website that it came from. Now, if this graphic was just a brief overview of the stages of making whiskey I was say it is good high-level attempt. Each of the stages are described very carefully and without clutter.
Cons: Unfortunately, the point of this graphic is not clear because it combines a high-level overview of a process with cherry-picked descriptions of chemical compounds… what?! Each compound is named and described while only mentioning one of the six stages laid out at the top. Why include a process when only a single stage needed to be introduced – Aging.
The chemical changes that occur during aging, primarily, are touched upon in the graphic. The designer must have assumed that the reader is a novice with limited whiskey knowledge, but an experienced chemist. An audience with such mixed prior knowledge seems pretty unusual but probably exists out there somewhere…
The Wikihow Graphic:
This graphic is actually one in a series on how to make whiskey. See the context here although it’s full of ads…
Pros: What’s great about these wikihow images is that they are consistent. They are designed to provide enough detail in each step to be useful, but not too much to be confusing or overwhelming.
Each image has a caption beneath it describing what to do in that step.
If there is a chance for the description to go off on a tangent, there are links going to a separate article. See the “build a still yourself” link above.
Any potentially new vocabulary or acronym is clarified in the description. e.g. “ABV (alcohol by volume)”
Cons: There are more pros than cons in this tutorial on making whiskey. One thing that was missing was a high-level organizer which we’ve seen in other graphics today. It’s important for the reader to know how many stages/steps are involved and be aware of the time it takes to complete the whole process.
The same goes for taking a survey or filling in a registration form online or even using software to file your taxes. By knowing you are “55% of the way there” is very helpful and can boost completion rates. The same applies to teaching someone a process.